NFL Properties says it didn't horn in on Rhinos debate here

John Steadman

September 15, 1993|By John Steadman

Most of the fire has been directed at the office of National Football League Properties for suggesting, in an informal way, that a team in Baltimore be called the Rhinos. Hooks were baited in Chesapeake Bay and an effort was made to land a rhino so as to lend some credence to this preposterous idea but not a single one was boated, pulled into a dock or caught in a crab trap.

So Baltimore has difficulty identifying with a rhino. Then came a suggestion that Ravens might fit, citing the fact Edgar Allan Poe, who authored the classic of the same name, is buried in Baltimore.

But that only occurred because of happenstance. He left home in Boston and came to Baltimore, where he fell into a fatal collapse and was picked up off the street as another victim of the evils of alcohol.

There have been some football players in the past, representing Baltimore, who liked to drink milkshakes at places such as Gussie's Downbeat, Sweeney's and Andy's. They could handle it and, of course, never got to a point of intoxication where they had to be picked up bodily and carried to a hospital emergency room.

So, in reality, there's no way for Baltimore's football heritage to relate to a poet or a drunk named Poe and his masterpiece, "The Raven." A raven, on the wing, is just another blackbird. Rather the Baltimore team be called sparrows because, from another aspect, the raven is considered an omen of death.

Certainly, a team named the Baltimore Ravens would not want to advocate alcoholism or see that any of their opponents died on the field of play. Baltimore has far more sensitivity than that.

Meanwhile, the NFL believes it has taken too many hits, along with what it perceives as unfair criticism, for the Rhino debacle. -- Roger Goodell, in charge of league operations, insists the NFL never singularly advocated Rhinos.

"We were not pushing Rhinos," he said, in answering a controversy that won't seem to go away. "It was included among a list of names and people grabbed on to it. National Football League Properties didn't advocate the name. It was a name that was just out there. The league has taken a rap for this and, in my opinion, it isn't justified."

Goodell, if the truth be known, grew up in Washington and was a fan of the Colts long before the team and the name were stolen away by Indianapolis. He remembers John Unitas and the way the Colts dominated the Washington Redskins. About all Unitas had to do was throw his helmet on the field and the Redskins were begging for mercy.

And, Goodell, in what he says "isn't here nor there," once served as a batboy for the Orioles when they played the Senators in Washington and thrilled to being around Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson and John "Boog" Powell.

"I understand Baltimore's love for the Colts and its association with the Colts' name because I grew up aware of the relationship," says Goodell. "I was a Colt fan, the only one in my family, as a matter of fact."

jTC Goodell made it clear in his conversation that the NFL, not NFL Properties, the merchandising arm, is going to help make the decision on what the team name, logo and colors will be if Baltimore is picked. This means the league, not souvenir salesmen, will be driving the train on the expansion process.

"You can explain it this way," said the good Mr. Goodell. "If the ownership isn't happy and isn't ready with a name, we are not going to force it. We'd rather wait and do it properly than hurry into naming a team. We'd prefer, though, to announce the names of the teams when the expansion cities are selected, but that's not hard and fast."

This is an encouraging message; it's what Baltimore wants to hear. The city, deprived of a team for 10 years, shouldn't be rushed into making a commitment on a name. Goodell's words are indeed comforting.

Since we once heard commissioner Paul Tagliabue, in a nostalgic mood, express the idea that Colts would be a perfect fit for Baltimore, if a franchise was re-established here, it's important every attempt be made to get the Colts' name returned.

Tagliabue handled the legal defense when Baltimore pressed a suit against the NFL, which it subsequently withdrew, over the loss of its team so he's aware of how the city has suffered since the Colts were taken away on that infamous March night in 1984.

Reiterating, the names Rhinos and Ravens seem remote. Bees and Knights have a chance. But, of course, Colts is coveted because of the part Baltimore played in conceiving the name and popularizing it for 35 years in two different leagues.

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